Disney Cruise Line is returning to Europe next spring, only this time with a few new itineraries.
The Disney Magic, which first cruised in Europe, in the Mediterranean, in 2007, will offer cruises to the Baltic region, in addition to a lineup of Mediterranean itineraries that include calls at three new ports.
And in each port Disney will add features to enhance the touring experience.
Disney sees its return and expansion into the Europe cruise market as an evolutionary step firmly based on a core Disney activity: storytelling. David Duffy, Disney Cruise Line's creative director for entertainment and shore excursions, summed it up this way: "We're using our storytelling expertise to tell the great and fascinating stories of the places we're visiting at each destination."
He added that the true objective was to provide fact-based narrative, rather than fairy tales.
Disney understands that for many passengers it will be their first time in Europe, and well-designed shore excursions are the key to a great cruise vacation. "We make our shore excursions very kid-friendly," said Jason Lasecki, Disney Cruise Line's public relations director.
"If they know their children are well taken care of, parents have a good time," he said.
Lasecki acknowledged the challenge for Disney was to keep the children engaged in the cultural significance of each port of call. "We're looking for the sweet spot in each destination," he said.
Sweet spot or not, one thing Disney insists upon for shore excursion participants is comfort. The line goes the extra mile with comfortable transportation along with adding little touches like plentiful bottled water, cool towels and ice cream stops during long tours to keep the kids happy.
Another option offered at each stop is a "Port Adventure" where youth counselors from the ship whisk the kids off for an activity, which enables the grown-ups to explore a site in more detail.
The line's return to Europe offers a treasure trove of culturally rich ports; however, it's the ones not normally considered children's destinations, such as Florence; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Tunis, Tunisia, that are the most intriguing.
For the majority of passengers onboard the Magic, the stop in Tunis will be their first time experiencing a Muslim country. Disney realizes this and will offer family-friendly lectures on the topic of Tunisian society and traditions.
Once ashore, tours and activities are clearly aimed at experiencing Tunisian culture.
For example, a "Treasure Hunt" shore excursion in the white-washed village of Sidi Bou Said mixes high-octane fun with discovering the ancient history of the village. Tour participants are given a map booklet with clues for a successful treasure hunt.
Along the way, guests visit former palaces; receive a temporary Arabic henna tattoo; fetch water from a famous communal fountain; haggle with shop owners using local currency to buy trinkets; take a pit stop in a cafe where the locals smoke their hookahs; and have their names written in Arabic by a wise man.
Other tours of the area include a visit to a souk in Tunis; the Bardo Museum, famous for its Roman mosaics; a visit to Carthage, a Unesco World Heritage site; and a jaunt to a Berber village with snake charmers, camel rides and belly dancing.
When the Magic heads north to the Baltics, the grandeur of St. Petersburg will be the highlight. For the first time in Disney Cruise Line history, a ship will spend an overnight in port.
"The shore excursions in St. Petersburg have been two years in the making," Duffy said. A tour of Catherine's Palace in Pushkin is the highlight, where Disney will offer an exclusive Prince and Princess Ball in the palace's grand ballroom complete with Disney princess characters.
Disney will also offer guests the opportunity to experience an evening performance of "Swan Lake" at the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre. Another Disney exclusive tour will enable guests to experience a private performance at the Jacobson Ballet School, where young dancers, ages 5 to 15, train for a career in the ballet.
At the Hermitage, Disney offers a chance for kids to visit amazing art and also create their own masterpieces in the museum's Roman sculpture section, giving parents more time to explore.
In the Mediterranean, in Florence, Disney developed a tour to take kids beyond just talking about history. The line is offering an exclusive "Disney Experience" at the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio, which enables kids to enjoy works of art by Michelangelo, wander through secret palace passageways, talk with actors portraying a duke and a duchess, try on medieval clothing and paint a fresco. The tour is actually part of a program developed for Italian schoolchildren, but Disney was able to work with the museum to come up with an English-language version.
"This tour is something no other cruise line has ever done in Florence," said Duffy.
Another exclusive tour is a medieval parade experience in Lucca, complete with drummers, troubadours, dancers, flag throwers and a crossbow contest.
For those who have always dreamed of going to cooking school in Tuscany, they can do that as well. The line is offering the experience at the Torre A Cenaia winery just outside Pisa. While this excursion is more adult-oriented, kids are welcomed too.
Onboard the Magic, there will be activities geared toward preparing kids for the ports, such as painting frescoes, mosaics and Russian dolls. There will also be a food tasting to familiarize the kids with what they'll find in each port, such as gelato for Italy or crepes for France.